2 people killed, trucks ambushed by suspected militants on key road to Mozambique's gas-rich north

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  • Suspected jihadist militants in northern Mozambique attacked two trucks transporting passengers and killed at least two people.
  • The two cargo trucks were transporting passengers from the northeastern town of Palma to the district of Nangade, along one of the main roads into Palma.
  • The Mozambican army has not yet managed to regain control of the area, overrun by violence since a 2017 insurgency.

Maputo – Suspected militants in Mozambique's insurgency-hit north have attacked two trucks transporting passengers, killing at least two people and further undermining road access to a gas-rich area, military sources said on Sunday.

Jihadists seized the key port town of Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado province last month, less than 80km south of one of Africa's biggest liquefied natural gas (LNG) investment projects, off the Afungi peninsula.

The Mozambican army has not yet managed to regain control of the area, where violence has intensified since the insurgency took hold in 2017.

On Saturday, suspected jihadists ambushed two cargo trucks carrying passengers from the northeastern town of Palma to the district of Nangade, near the Tanzanian border.

Two unnamed military sources confirmed the attack, which took place near an army post 40km from Palma.

"Assistance was provided, but at the moment two deaths and many injured are confirmed," said a soldier who witnessed the attack, explaining that one of the trucks crashed into a tree.

The victims were taken to hospital in Nangade.

A high-ranking officer in Palma said the ambush significantly raised the threat level posed by insurgency.

"The vehicles circulated without military escort because we assumed that the route was safe", he told AFP.

'We are surrounded'

"With this attack, we can assume that we are isolated from the rest of the province and the country. Right now, the only safe way to get in and out of the Palma is by air."

The trucks were travelling along one of the main roads into Palma, which sits alongside 75 trillion cubic feet of LNG.

The town is the base for a $23 billion gas exploration project developed by French oil giant Total, as well as other investments by American-owned Exxon-Mobil and Italy's Eni.

"We are surrounded and at this moment the defence and security forces have neither the conditions nor the capacity to repel the insurgents from Palma and recover Mocimboa da Praia," confided another military officer based in the town.

Militants have launched a series of attacks on villages and towns in Cabo Delgado over the past three years, killing more than 1 500 people and displacing at least 250 000.

The group has grown bolder in recent months, escalating violence as part of a campaign to establish an Islamist caliphate.

Their attacks have already rendered the road network between provincial capital Pemba and Palma impassable.

Earlier this week, militants seized control of two small islands in the Indian Ocean, threatening maritime traffic in the region.

Total has assured it is not using Mocimboa as a logistical hub and that it has built its own maritime facilities.

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